Les Miserables is great. It’s an excellent musical. It uses music to convey it’s plot, emotional acting to develop characters, smoothly transitioning and creative sets, fitting lighting, brilliant costumes, etc. Using some of Victor Hugo’s (The author of Les Miserables the book) original works as backdrops is really cool. And using what looks like Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People as inspiration for staging is wonderful.
There’s not much else I can really say about it’s positive aspects that haven’t been said already. It’s great. If you like musicals I’m fairly sure you will love this show. It’s at the Orpheum theater through the 18th of December. Tickets and information here
But with that said…I just don’t like it. There are some things musicals do that just make me mad. So I will state those clearly instead of writing an unfair review.
Spoilers Below (Which include some from West Side Story)
Bringing the Dead Back Onstage
This one is particularly bad. When Les Miserables pulled it out (multiple times), I literally started plunging my pen into my page in fury. When Jersey Boys did it, I groaned and rolled my eyes. I’m a strong believer that if a character is killed off, they shouldn’t be seen again until the curtain call. For me, it totally ruins the death of a character(even if it was gigglable in the first place. Enjolras’ death reminded me of when Justin Bieber was shot on CSI.) if I know they’re waiting in the wings to make another appearance.
If Marius is singing about being alone, he should be alone. Not with a mob of killed off characters hovering around him. Unless they are riddled with bullet holes and blood. That could’ve been cool. Not in a gory way, just as opposed to “Hey man…um. We didn’t actually die on the barricade” “NO MAN YOU’RE DEAD YOU ALL DIED FOR NOTHING” *Dead people slowly back away*
Imagine if in West Side Story (the movie), after Tony kills Bernardo, Riff’s ghost showed up and said “Nice work buddy boy, really showed em’ who’s boss!” It would totally kill the mood.
I only believe we should see a dead character reappear if they are zombies or a Force Ghost. And most broadway musicals have little to nothing to do with Star Wars or Night of the Living Dead…yet.
Love at First Sight
This isn’t cute. At all. The only production I let get away with this is West Side Story, and that’s only because the character development for Maria and Tony is some of the best I’ve seen. They fit together. I didn’t feel like it was fake or silly.
Cosette and Marius don’t get that exception. These two were poorly developed at this point, and Marius had no attractive qualities. He was just being a jerk to a girl who cared for him a ton, and I certainly wasn’t happy for him and Cosette. Just irritated.
If Love at First Sight is used, there should at least be some witty dialogue between likable characters. In Les Mis, all we knew about Cosette was that she had a horrible life before she met Jean ValJean. Marius was part of the student revolution. There was no dynamic to their relationship besides “OMG I LOVE YOU SO MUCH”, and obnoxiously so. Which brings me to my next point.
An Emotional Rollercoaster Should Not Just Be Going Downhill
Imagine you’re at an amusement park, and are hopping on “Les Miserables the RIDE!”, complete with instrumentals of Javert’s Soliloquy and/or I Dreamed a Dream. Now, imagine you’re reaching the top of the hill…minutes into the ride. Once you reach the top, all you can see is tracks going downhill.
And you do this for 3 hours, save the occasional bump. (And when the rollercoaster hits 88mph, you travel forward in time! Twice! Then Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire comes on.)
That is what Les Mis is like. There is no emotional pause. No room to breathe. It’s like Call of Duty the Musical. Just a ton of set pieces and characters you’re supposed to care for. And some people will love that, but it just left me waiting for some dialogue, some pause, some reason to like the characters other than “They’re good people.” It stopped having a positive effect on me, and just made me irritated.
Musicals are not Movies
This one is especially applicable if you happen to be in the back row of the main level (like I was).
Les Miserables’ storytelling is a lot like a movie. Many of the stage pictures are cinematic, and just waiting to be filmed. The movie like background was used to create moving scenes. At one point, Jean ValJean was making a journey through the sewers while carrying someone on his back, and I could hear The Final Countdown in my head. It was a montage straight out of the movies, but on stage. Which is creative in a weird way, but not spectacular, especially when in a movie you can actually see the struggle on a character’s face.
Les Mis kind of made me want a couple huge screens installed in the Orpheum, like at an arena concert. I want to see their faces if they’re not going to be doing anything!
Then, during many of the songs, the actors were stationary. The only way they expressed emotion was through their face and their voice. And don’t get me wrong, their voices were beautiful, but without movement there was an energy lacking. I could see being at Fantine’s bedside in a movie. Javert on the bridge (Which was based on a bridge in Paris. I’ve been on it too!) Jean ValJean in the market. The students marching.
And movies are great. But in a musical, we have live actors in front of us. Walking through the aisles is kind of cliche, but that would’ve added some more depth. We don’t need to pay extra money to go see crappy 3D, we have 3 dimensions and smell-o-vision all around us. This cinematic storytelling just reeked of missed opportunities. If I wanted to see a movie, I could have. Les Mis felt like it was directed from the front row, for the front row. I can just imagine all the “theatrical haze” while sitting there. (Theatrical Haze was used liberally.)
Les Mis is about people being miserable. When a child that’s supposed to be in rags and has a horrible life comes on and gets “AWW SHE’S SO CUTE”’s, something is amiss. I wished they had made Cosette and Gavroche a little older.
Or here’s an idea. Done some more character development.
But luckily, Cosette grows up (more time travel!) which is more than I can say for Billy Elliot.
Unless you get as frustrated as I do about these things, you should go see Les Miserables. It’s a good musical. I just…don’t like it so much. Or like the things it’s based in.